Forum - Spring 23

Page 1

titan of the gaming industry

Sir Ian Livingstone sustainable entrepreneurialism

Tony Cleary MBE, Lanchester Group addressing the issue devolution deal explained

spring 23

spring 23 welcome


I recently attended the 'Convention of the North' in Manchester which brought together political, business and community leaders to discuss the ambition of the North, with a key focus on levelling up. What struck me was the lack of representation from the North East both on-stage and within the delegations. We are working hard to raise the profile of our region’s entrepreneurs who are doing equally fantastic work,

if not better, than our North West neighbours. For example, Forum member Tony Cleary MBE from Lanchester Group who has built the world’s most environmentally sustainable bottling facility, employing over 500 staff. You can read more about his journey to making his business carbon neutral on page 10. Our mission at the Entrepreneurs’ Forum is to energise North East entrepreneurs and by reading this issue, I hope you’ll be inspired and ready to face 2023, whatever it may bring. Our membership is growing and if you’d like to get involved or know someone who would benefit from being part of our network please get in touch. Details of how to join are on page 30.

Editorial Sally Cowling

Johnathan Ramsay

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inside All contents copyright ©2023 Allies Group Ltd. All rights reserved. While every effort is made to ensure accuracy, no responsibility can be accepted for inaccuracies, howsoever caused. No liability can be accepted for illustrations, photographs, artwork or advertising materials while in transmission or with the publisher or their agents. All content marked 'profile feature' is paid for advertising. All information is correct at time of going to print, March 2023. ISSN 2753-796X 4 plan ahead 6 business bulletin the latest news from our members 10 centre stage an interview with Tony Cleary MBE 12 chairman's dinner a look back at our 2023 chairman's dinner 14 mentoring for growth 16 cover story an interview with Sir Ian Livingstone 18 addressing the issue an inside look at devolution in the North East 20 survey response 22 new members
out of office an Indian adventure with Sarah Bell 26 in focus Middleton Lodge Estate
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spring 23

plan ahead

16 March 9am - 12pm


Bringing Your Values To Life

Durham CCC, Chester-le-Street FREE for entrepreneur members and partners

22 March 6pm - 8pm


The Good, The Bad and The Ugly RBC Brewin Dolphin, Newcastle FREE for entrepreneur members and partners

To view all upcoming events, and to book, visit:

18 April 2pm - 4.30pm


Scaling Without Frontiers Ward Hadaway, Newcastle FREE for entrepreneur members

27 April 6pm - 10pm


With Alan and Eileen Ferguson, Fergusons Transport & Ad Gefrin 21, Newcastle £75+VAT for entrepreneur members

23 March 9am - 12pm



Ebac, Newton Aycliffe FREE for entrepreneur members

11 May 9am - 12pm


Speak Like a Leader

Durham CCC, Chester-le-Street FREE for entrepreneur members and partners

12 May 12pm - 2pm


Member Lunch Buddha Beat, Sunderland For entrepreneur members, costs payable on the day

28 April 1pm - 4pm


Visualsoft, Stockton FREE for entrepreneur members

16 May 2pm - 4.30pm


Does Your Business Need a Board Salvus House, Durham FREE for entrepreneur members


Fortune Favours the Brave Hardwick Hall, Sedgefield

Our Spring Conference returns to Hardwick Hall on 25 May. Join us for a day packed with incredible speakers and networking opportunities. Hosted by Alfie Joey, we’re delighted to announce our first speaker, Tony Anderson, easyJet’s third employee and first Sales and Marketing Director. Learn how Tony was instrumental in catapulting easyJet to success and how he brought his ideas to fruition to revolutionise the air travel industry. Be the first to hear about our other speakers by following us on LinkedIn or Twitter.

Member Early Bird Offer:

Member plus guest: £195+VAT

Individual: £99+VAT

(if purchased by 31st March)

New Member Offer:

Join the Entrepreneurs’ Forum before 10th May and receive a complimentary ticket to our conference (conditions apply).


May 8am
5 21 June 2pm - 4.30pm ROUND TABLE Getting Investment Ready Gateshead College, Gateshead FREE for entrepreneur members
June 9am - 12pm
a High
Motors Arena, Newcastle FREE for entrepreneur members and partners 27 June 9.30am - 12pm ON-SITE VISIT Lanchester Wines Lanchester Wines, Stanley FREE for entrepreneur members 8 June 5.30pm - 9.30pm
Coach House, Middleton Lodge £75+VAT for entrepreneur members
June 12pm - 2pm SOCIAL EVENT Member Lunch Banyan, Newcastle
With Dale Smith, SDDE Smith
6 June 1pm - 4pm MENTORING DROP-IN SESSION RBC Brewin Dolphin, Newcastle FREE for entrepreneur members 19 May 9am - 11am INSIGHT GROUP eCommerce Northern Design Centre, Gateshead FREE for members and non-members running online stores
For entrepreneur members, costs payable on

spring 23 business bulletin

Bringing you the latest developments, breaking news and exclusive updates from Entrepreneurs' Forum members…

Media Borne Opens Sector Opportunities With North East Fund Backing

An ambitious North East creative media agency is embarking on the next chapter of its growth story with the help of a six-figure investment from the North East Small Loan Fund Supported by The European Regional Development Fund. Media Borne has a growing roster of clients ranging from North East SMEs to international blue chip companies and the NHS. The Newcastlebased agency was set up five years ago by managing director Chris Thompson, who at first ran it as a side venture alongside his civil engineering job before turning it into a full-time career. Media Borne is now using the investment to build on their expanding range of services with a focus on live-streaming technology, e-learning and high-end video production. The forward-thinking agency is also strengthening its presence in the broadcast sector, with a number of creative documentaries already in development, and investing in

the new staff required to support its growth. Recent projects include a series of dynamic time-lapse films that captured the construction of the landmark Hadrian Tower in central Newcastle over an eight-month period, while they also developed a VR-360 e-learning platform for the NHS Trauma Network. Media Borne MD Chris Thompson said:

“Our business model is based on developing long-term relationships with clients and providing all the different cuttingedge media services from a single point of contact. We’ve built a strong business, but with demand for advanced services like live-streaming and media assets continuing to increase, we felt there would be a lot more for us to achieve with the right resources. The team is growing, and having put this new growth capital in place, we’re confident that we’ll go past the one million pound turnover mark within the next two years."

Dominic Lusardi Joins SeerBI As CIO To Drive AI Adoption

SeerBI, an artificial intelligence and data science business based in the North East, is excited to announce the appointment of Dominic Lusardi as their new Chief Information Officer (CIO) and chair of the board. Dominic will be joining the company to help drive the continued growth and product innovation and development.

Dominic brings to the team a wealth of experience in tech and business, having built, and sold tech businesses and was recognised by the Sunday Times and Maserati in 2019 as one of the top 100 entrepreneurs in the UK. He has a proven track record of success and has a deep understanding of the industry and entrepreneurship having been named Tees Tech Ambassador and in the top 30 of well-known business people in the Tees Valley. Dominic is highly skilled in identifying new business opportunities and developing strategies to capitalise on them. His experience and knowledge will be a valuable asset to SeerBI as it

continues to grow and expand. As CIO, Dominic will be responsible for overseeing the company's product and technology strategy, plus operations. He will work closely with the executive team to ensure that the company's technology aligns with the overall business strategy and that it is able to grow the business into a nationally recognised supplier of AI solutions. He will also be responsible for ensuring that the company's technology is secure and reliable, and that SeerBI is ready to scale and attract investment.

Dominic's appointment comes at a time of rapid growth for SeerBI, as demand for data science services continues to rise. Working alongside Owain Brennan, CEO of SeerBI, the company will be able to develop new products and services that will meet the evolving needs of the industry.

"We are pleased to have Dominic join the team," said the CEO of SeerBI, "His experience and expertise will be invaluable as we continue to grow and evolve as a company."

Boxmodel Expands To Meet Global Demand

North East software specialist

Boxmodel has increased its headcount from six to 34 highly skilled specialists, as it continues its expansion to meet global demand.

From its base in The Core, the team of expert software engineers design and build technology-led innovations for clients, which include RED Driving

School, Airbus and Royal IHC.

Alan Easton, who founded Boxmodel in 2009 and embarked on a five-year growth plan in 2017, said: “We have clients coming to us thinking it’s not possible to find a solution because they’ve been told that by other software businesses – but to date, there has been nothing we haven’t been able to do.”

Talent Firm Supports Growth With New Office Space

North East-based recruitment firm

North East PR Agency Harvey & Hugo Launches New Podcast

North East PR agency Harvey & Hugo has launched a new podcast, getting up close and personal with some of the region’s most respected business people. Hosted by founder and managing director Charlotte Nichols, PRsonal aims to shine a light on the person behind the professional, with no topic off-limits. In each episode, Charlotte will sit down with a different guest and ask some probing questions to find the real personality behind the business profile. She said: “I’m not going to be asking any questions about business, it’s all personal –although there’s nothing I wouldn’t answer myself.

“My aim is to get away from all the business speak and bluster and find out who people really are. After all, we’re always telling our clients that people buy from people, so we know the value of getting to see a bit of personality.”

Charlotte launched Harvey & Hugo in 2009 to give businesses affected by the recession access to flexible, affordable PR, social media and content marketing. The business has since grown to 11 members of staff and offers three ways of working: traditional retained contracts; flexible, fixed-fee services with Pay-asHugo; and its dedicated training school, Hugoversity. Charlotte added: “I still personally hate small talk, even after almost 20 years of doing it as part of my career. “Business is full of this superficial chat and you never really get to know who the people are behind the business; it can often feel like you’re talking to someone’s LinkedIn profile. I want to talk about deeper things –the meaning of life, love, fears, childhood memories, insecurities – and PRsonal allows me to do that.”

Talentheads has started the year with a move to larger premises, following a boost in staff numbers and a 60 per cent growth in turnover. Talentheads, which was set up by Sam Spoors in 2020, has moved to a larger office in Morpeth, Northumberland. Having taken on six new members of staff in the past 12 months. Sam said: “We are committed to growth and therefore knew we needed a bigger office space to facilitate that expansion for our teams and our clients.

“We wanted to remain in the North East, as we are so proud of our roots and the location has great links to the A1.” Talentheads offers businesses a different approach to recruitment by absorbing itself into companies as the internal recruitment, talent and resourcing teams and works with business owners on long-term, sustainable strategies to help them take control of the recruitment

process. Sam added: “Our new team members bring a wealth of experience and talent, and I can’t wait to see how we all work together. “Last year was very successful for the brand. Aside from the new offices, we also marked our highest monthly revenue, started work with some exciting new clients and made the shortlists for some amazing awards.” As well as boosting the team, Talentheads has also invested in video technology that allows the team to engage with clients and the talent they are looking to recruit with a real face to support their brand. The investment in the technology was supported by funding from NBSL, which is part of the European Regional Development Fund. Sam said: “People buy from people so we have invested in being seen so business owners, hiring managers and candidates can identify, engage and work with people – rather than emails.”

Funky Chunky Furniture Achieves Global Recognition For Sustainability

South Tyneside-based Funky Chunky Furniture has received a globally recognised sustainability certification for all the timber it uses to make its shelves and furniture.

Soil Association Certification visited the furniture manufacturer and certified it to FSC® standards, awarding it a timber certification (FSC-C177532).

Kevin Johnston, managing director of

Funky Chunky Furniture, said: “We’ve always been conscious of sourcing the most sustainable wood we can, and have worked closely with our timber merchants to make that happen.

“To now be certified to FSC standards really is the icing on the cake. It will give our customers confidence that they’re buying from a reputable and environmentally conscious business.”


Rebranding With Purpose

Reheat is delighted to be ready to launch its new brand, having gone through the challenging process of replacing the brand that had been in place since Ben Tansey, Managing Director, started the business in 2011. Rather than simply replace the look and feel, Reheat went through a full exploratory process to reach a brand promise and personality. Ben said: “I am proud to now have a brand that I think reflects who we are as a business today. Far beyond a logo change and a new website, there was an extensive process of self-reflection, asking ‘Why do we do what we do? Why do we exist as a business?’ While we have always been a business with purpose, the rebrand enabled us to go deeper in terms of defining and communicating this far better, both internally and externally.”

Amid a climate and energy crisis there is surely no better time for business leaders to be thinking about their purpose and the impact of their business on society and the environment, ensuring they are doing the right thing beyond profit - but certainly not without it.

Ben continued: “In short, our purpose is ‘to be part of an urgent global response to the climate crisis, by accelerating the transition to renewable heat and power’. We also add that we are ‘helping businesses and communities to flourish without the environmental and financial

costs of fossil fuels.’ Our arrival at this purpose statement was the recognition that our sector –renewable heat – is part of something far greater than ourselves, but that we are absolutely playing our part in helping clients achieve decarbonisation and transition to renewable solutions.”

Ben and Reheat also took a ‘sledgehammer’ to their old values, involving the whole team to ensure the new values are honest and authentic in reflecting everyone’s beliefs.

Ben added “I can’t sit here and write that we have categorically cracked it with regards to purpose and values - like all companies we are continuously learning - but it is a journey that is well underway at Reheat. I know many other businesses and business leaders have started their own journey towards placing purpose, people and planet at the forefront of their brand and stakeholder governance, and I would urge businesses to do what they can, and to use networks such as the Entrepreneurs' Forum to support and encourage one another. I have regular conversations with my networks on these issues, giving and taking onboard advice wherever I can.

“The climate crisis is without doubt the biggest challenge of our time, but it is an opportunity out of which healthy, profitable business models can prosper with a people and planet-first approach.”

North East Skills And Employment Programme Wins Global Praise

PlanBEE (Built Environment Education) - an innovative skills programme designed and developed by Ryder and Gateshead Collegehas won the further and higher education category at the 2022 Inspire Future Generation Awards. Supported by a growing consortium of the UK construction’s leading companies, the higher apprenticeship scheme is designed to help attract and retain talent in the built

environment and construction sector. Peter Barker, Partner at Ryder said:

“PlanBEE is a great example of the benefit of close collaboration between industry and education to nurture a growing diversity of exceptional talent, leading to exciting careers in our industry.”

For further information on PlanBEE including how to apply for September 2023, visit


Opening Of Fourth Office In Darlington

Hot on the heels of the opening of their Penrith office in September 2022, EMG Solicitors are expanding further with a brand-new division in Darlington. This is supported by a growing Court of Protection (COP) offering, making EMG the largest independent team in the North East with 36 practitioners. Specialising in court of protection, wills, trusts and probate, family, employment, residential conveyancing and commercial property services, the Darlington branch is a welcome addition to their existing Newcastle, Durham and Penrith offices; demonstrating the strength of the brand’s growing reputation in the legal sector. Officially opened in January 2023,

the Darlington office will be led by Court of Protection Director, Sarah Jackson, who recently joined the business. Law Society accredited, she brings with her over 13 years’ experience in health & welfare COP work – a specialism that looks after the best interest decisions of clients in areas including accommodation, care and support.

The team of five along with Sarah join the existing COP health & welfare team to support the business's North East client base. The new office supports EMG Solicitors’ continued growth which has seen revenues increase in the last year by approximately 36% from £3.4 million to £4.6 million, with headcount now in excess of 117.

To keep up to date with the latest news and exclusive insights from the Entrepreneurs' Forum, visit

Solicitors Celebrate Ben Tansey, Managing Director, Reheat
Think we just build websites? We performed a data-led UX review for a global power equipment manufacturer, generating a 409% revenue surge. 0191 511 1014 Forum Magazine.indd 1 16/02/2023 17:46

spring 23 interview centre stage

‘Net Zero’ - another climate change buzzword or is 2023 the year we all need to stand up and take action to fight carbon emissions? Tony Cleary MBE, Founder and CEO of The Lanchester Group, has led the way with sustainable practices for a number of years and can vouch first hand for the benefits of becoming a greener business. We sat down with him to find out all about his sustainability journey, ahead of his talk on the subject at this year’s Chairman’s Dinner.

You’ve been described as a ‘pioneering entrepreneur who is leading the charge on sustainable entrepreneurialism’, would you agree with that assessment?

We’re definitely in the top tier of sustainable businesses in the UK, and that’s largely thanks to our spread of initiatives. Our main focus is renewable heat and energy generation, which reduces our reliance on fossil fuels. We combine renewable wind and solar energy with geothermal heat pumps – you have to look at what’s right for each specific location and adapt. Some approaches simply aren’t appropriate in some locations, ie, we could never install water source heat pumps at our HQ in Stanley because we’re too high above sea level, nor turbines in the centre of Newcastle. But, through a combined approach we always achieve our targets.

There’s no ‘one size fits all’ solution when it comes to sustainability and no one single correct approach –what’s right for us might not be right for anyone else. We put our first wind turbine up in 2012, so we’ve been doing this for some time.

Sustainability is ingrained in each of our businesses now [Lanchester Wines, Greencroft Bottling, Bon Bon’s, Spicers of Hythe]. And, we’ve learnt lessons along the way, both good and bad, which we regularly share as good practice with other businesses.

What was it that made you take that first leap in 2012?

I was at home recovering from a hip operation when I saw an article in the newspaper about creating power from wind energy. We’re based up on a windy hill in County Durham so I thought it would be a good idea. I rang a contact who had just installed his own turbines to ask his opinion and he told me to just do it, no debate. So that was it! And sure enough, we have done very well from it.

We use a quite a lot power on site, especially at Greencroft Bottling, so the more we looked into generating our own electricity, the more it made sense. This was the start of our sustainability journey really. We weren’t pioneers with wind, but we were definitely one of the first businesses in the region to combine so many different ways to generate renewable power.

How has the business’ sustainability journey progressed from that point?

We’ve got the three wind turbines at our County Durham site, and another one up in Stamfordham. We were going to erect more, until the Government’s U-turn on turbines. But, views about on-shore wind is changing, so hopefully we’ll be able to restart this project again soon. Our turbines produce anywhere from 4.5m to 5.5m kWh per year.

Obviously it’s more windy some years than others and there’s seasonal fluctuations, so the exact amount varies.

We’ve got a small solar array on Lanchester Wines’ offices which powers our lighting. But the big story is our new home for Greencroft Bottling, Greencroft Two. We’ve built the new 22,000m2 (around 240,000ft2) building on our land at our head offices in Stanley and we’ll start moving in this year. We’re spending more than we might otherwise on a new building (£20 million overall), investing an additional £3 million in sustainable practices. We’re the first building in the UK to install Kingspan’s Quadcore insulation PowerPanels which combine outstanding thermal panels with solar – the PowerPanels in the roof will have 2 Megawatts of solar which will create around 1.7m

kilowatt hours of electricity per year. We’re continuing to look at other emerging sustainable technology, aiming to making this the most sustainable bottling plant on the planet.

We’ve also got geothermal heat pump systems in our two warehouses in Gateshead, one of which is the home to Spicers of Hythe. This pumps up warm water from the old mine workings beneath the warehouses which we convert into heat, keeping the two big warehouses at a constantly ambient temperature. It’s one of the biggest heat pump systems in Western Europe that’s pumping mine water, and we don’t know of any other UK business using such a system for warehousing. It’s massively efficient, but it’s a big old piece of kit and it’s taken considerable investment to get going.

Is it that fear of not making a return that’s potentially preventing businesses making bigger steps towards sustainability?

One of the main things I want to clear up is the myth surrounding the cost of sustainability. The key is to invest what you can – yes we’ve done the big ticket installations, but sustainability can be smaller scale too. We’re a business at the end of the day, it’s got to wash its face. We should see a return on investment from our new solar in around five years (weather permitting) and this is because we’re using the energy ourselves, as opposed to selling it on where you don’t see good enough payback.

When it comes to most SMEs, most of these ‘big ticket’ sustainable investments are out of reach, but what else can they do to become more sustainable?

Most businesses can install solar, they can certainly do LED lighting and they can definitely introduce energy saving policies. Most SMEs use a fair bit of power, their costs must have gone up four-fold in the last few years. So, if they can

produce, or conserve even half of that electricity through these sustainable routes then they’ll be saving themselves a lot of money. Most businesses can borrow the money through asset finance which is quite easy to get. They could pay the investment back in five years for example, then you’ve essentially got your solar panels for free because you’ve massively cut energy bills. What I really want entrepreneurs to take away from this read, is that the barrier to entry for making those changes towards sustainability is really quite low. Even just a small solar panel makes a difference. You’ll get your money back in a few years if you use the power. We’re massive believers in sharing good practice, we’ve made mistakes throughout our journey but it’s been massively worthwhile in the end.

Have you got any plans for more sustainability technology to be implemented across the Lanchester Group?

Hydrogen is something we’ve looked at. But we still think we’re about five to six years out from that being ready to use. It’s quite difficult to produce,

it’s quite expensive, and you’ve got to compress it which requires a lot of energy. My current thinking is that for us, when we’ve got spare energy, it might be a good idea to have a hydrogen plant. The hydrogen plants aren’t that efficient yet, but they’re getting there. Trucks in the future will have to be hydrogen powered,

For more information visit:

you can’t have a battery truck. That’s one of the things we’re looking at for the distant future. But we’re also looking at our waste and how we can better use that. At the end of the day, we want to be one of the most sustainable businesses in the world and we’re going to continue to make inroads towards that.

On 27th June, Entrepreneurs' Forum Members will have the opportunity to go behind the scenes at Lanchester Wine’s Greencroft site with Tony. For more details see ‘plan ahead’ on page 4 or check out the events section of our website or scan the QR code.

“That’s one of the main things I want to clear up, the myth surrounding the cost of sustainability. Because financially it is worthwhile. If it’s not commercial, we won’t do it.”

chairman's dinner spring 23

Embracing sustainability – the future for North East business

At our recent Chairman's Dinner, Entrepreneurs' Forum members called for action to make positive changes to combat climate change. With greenhouse gas emissions at their highest level in two million years, the event held at The Biscuit Factory in Newcastle witnessed members highlighting the importance of each and every business in the region contributing to the UK’s target of achieving net carbon zero by 2050.

The North East is home to many businesses already committed to making a positive impact on the environment. The event offered the opportunity to hear from two founders who are taking sustainability to the next level in the region.

Low Carbon Materials co-founder, Phil Buckley said: “Sustainability needs to be something you want to do, not something you have to do to complete a checklist.” Tony Cleary MBE, Founder and CEO of Lanchester Group has taken the bull by the horns and made significant investment at the company’s contract bottling site at Greencroft, County Durham, taking real action to achieve their commitment of becoming carbon minus.

Elected Metro Mayor for the North of Tyne, Jamie Driscoll, said: “It isn't a future threat; it's a crisis that's right here, right now. So it was heartening to hear how entrepreneurs are rallying together."

Julie Cuthbertson, RMT Mayor Jamie Driscoll, Tony Cleary, Lanchester Group, Phil Buckley, Low Carbon Materials and Elaine Stroud, Entrepreneurs’ Forum Dan Martin, Swarm Energy, Jonathan Gold, Opportuni and David Brophy, Waymark IT Gill Hunter, Square One Law and Olga Bell, MMCS Commercial Cleaning Tony Cleary, Lanchester Group and Ian Gilthorpe, MBC Consultants James Nightingale, Ward Hadaway
Sarah Thackray, BeaconHouse Events, Emma Guadern, EMG Solicitors and Nigel Mills, The Lakes Distillery Toby Bridges, NBT Group, Ralph Thompson, Silvermoor and Jessica Williams, Just Williams Andy Briggs, IA Growth and Katherine Keddie, Adopter Lisa Hart Shepherd, Lamp House Strategy, Kirsty and Steve Lawrenson, EYPS Mark Bryce, Agilico, Nikki Masterman, Inspired HR and Pete Lillie, Double A-Side Consulting David Brophy, Waymark IT Graeme Tennick, Tennick Accountants, Jay Wilson, Jaccountancy, Linda Lowther, Advice4Business NE and Dave Gibson, Blu Sky Tax Ruth Plater, Radial Path Ralph Thompson, Silvermoor, Jessica Williams, Just Williams, Vincent Robson, Northumbria University, Toby Bridges, NBT Group and Brian Palmer, Tharsus Group Andrew & Alice Hall, Rowen Group Claire Parry, Week2Week Serviced Apartment, Claire Rolston, CLR Law and Julie Cuthbertson, RMT The Biscuit Factory Gallery

spring 23 mentoring for growth

“Prior to getting involved with the Forum’s mentoring programme, we had led our business’s charge on our own for just under two years. We were on the cusp of recruiting to form a small design team and required advice primarily on growth. With ALT STUDIOS being our first business venture, it’s fair to say we were also after a second opinion on our short-term and long-term business strategy from seasoned and successful individuals outside our industry.”

Having had mentoring sessions with at least 100 plus businesses combined over the past 21 years, Nigel and John were no-brainers when it came to pairing ALT STUDIOS up with mentors.

For their mentoring programme, founders of ALT STUDIOS, Paul Milner and Scott Savin were matched up with Nigel Mills CBE, CEO of The Lakes Distillery and former Entrepreneurs’ Forum chairman, and John Duns, director and co-owner of North East Times Magazine.

In terms of business acumen and knowledge on how to grow a business successfully, Nigel and John are without doubt two of the most accomplished entrepreneurs in the country. We caught up with Nigel, John and ALT STUDIOS’ Paul Milner to find out more about their experience with the Entrepreneurs’ Forum’s mentoring programme and why it’s such an important part of what the Forum is all about.

“We're just about to head into our second year as Forum members and honestly, it was an easy decision to become part of their growing community,” says Paul. “Our aim was to broaden our general business knowledge and to engage on a more personal and conversational level with those driving their own entrepreneurial endeavours.

“The experience with both Nigel and John surpassed our expectations as it provided an injection of confidence that we needed at a pivotal point in the infancy of our practice and served as a reminder to be brave,” says Paul. “The fact that Nigel and John were willing to sacrifice time from their very busy schedules said a lot about them as people."

John tackled a number of different topics with the ALT STUDIOS team, from cultural values to networking and branding.

“I had a really enjoyable session with Paul and Scott,” he says.

“We discussed the importance of brand and business development. I’m optimistic that the team at ALT STUDIOS will be a great success - they have the unwavering commitment to quality that is needed.”

As far as Nigel is concerned, mentoring is vitally important in creating successful entrepreneurs and was one of the main reasons the Entrepreneurs’ Forum came to be in the first place.

“From day one mentoring was in the DNA of the Forum, mentoring is the magic ingredient that can mean the difference between success and failure,” says Nigel.

“The Entrepreneurs’ Forum was created for North East based entrepreneurs to help them build and scale their businesses here in the region, to create the wealth and jobs it desperately needs. In other words if nobody else will help us we will help each other and get the job done regardless."

Further information

With a broad range of highly experienced mentors, we’re confident we can find you the right person to offer you support and advice no matter what stage you're at.

Our mentoring programme* isn't a fixed set of sessions – you decide what works best for you. Some mentees just need an hour to get the answer to a specific question, others have regular check-ins. Whatever your needs, just complete the form on our website and we’ll be in touch to match you with a suitable mentor or if you still have questions, please email Michael Dixon at the Entrepreneurs’ Forum to find out more.

We’re always on the lookout for new mentors, so if you have successfully scaled a business and would like to share the benefit of your experience with other business leaders, please get in touch:

ALT STUDIOS recently reached out to the Entrepreneurs' Forum mentoring programme for guidance on their business’s short and long term strategy for growth.
* Our mentoring programme is only available to Entrepreneurs’ Forum members.

cover story Sir Ian Livingstone spring 23

Having founded two billion-dollar games companies (Games Workshop and Eidos),

company, who wanted me to write their launch game, Eureka.

“After that first dip into the video game world I didn’t look back. I sold out of Games Workshop in 1991 and joined Domark as Vice Chairman.

I don’t claim to know everything that’s going to be a success, but I feel as experienced as anybody in recognising potential success stories in the video games industry.

However, he’s not finished levelling up yet; Sir Ian splits his time between heading up Hiro Capital, a venture capital fund investing in the video games and technology sector, the development of his own school, and continued work as an author. Did we mention Sir Ian received a Knighthood in 2022? It’s a title that seems especially fitting considering Sir Ian has spent much of his life creating fantasy worlds filled with knights, dragons and wizards.

After Sir Ian battled through swathes of fans looking for a signed copy of his new book, Dice Men, chronicling the origin story of Games Workshop, he put down his sword and shield for a chat with us at the Entrepreneurs’ Forum Together We Can Take on the World conference.

“Games have always been my hobby, I’m a big games player even today,” he added.

“I was lucky enough to turn my hobby of playing games into a lifelong business of making them. But, the way the industry has changed has been phenomenal - back in the 70s we were just making it up as we went along!”

Sir Ian’s passion for tabletop gaming led him to found Games Workshop in early 1975 with his two flatmates John Peake and Steve Jackson. At the beginning they were simply selling their own creations and

independent games from the flat, but soon word got out across the pond and the trio ended up with an early copy of Dungeons and Dragons (D&D). D&D was just another independent game that dropped through their door at the time, but Sir Ian quickly realised its potential and struck a deal to be the game’s exclusive distributor throughout Europe.

The popularity of D&D helped Games Workshop grow exponentially from a bedroom mail order company to a hugely successful gaming manufacturer and retail chain, with the first physical shop opening in Hammersmith in 1978. Games Workshop expanded, with the introduction of its own tabletop game, Warhammer, and White Dwarf magazine covering all the goings on in the gaming world. It was evolving into a retail giant with a dedicated following of customers unrivalled in the sector.

“As Games Workshop grew, I began writing interactive fantasy gamebooks called Fighting Fantasy,” Sir Ian explained.

“One of the first in the book series, Deathtrap Dungeon, was number one on the bestseller list in 1984. It was then that my adventure into the video game world began, after I was approached by the founders of Domark, a start-up video games

“We went on to form a major part of a new video games publisher Eidos which floated in 1995. We launched Tomb Raider in 1996 which was a spectacular success. We had 100,000 units in the budget and ended up selling nearly 7 million copies over time.”

After leaving Eidos in 2013, Sir Ian went on to become an investor in the gaming industry, and in classic fantasy style, discovered more than his fair share of unicorn businesses.

“I realised I was getting too old to run a games company at this point, soI turned my focus to investment,”

Sir Ian said.

“Initially I invested in a lot of indie studios and I was associated with two unicorns; Playdemic with Golf Clash and Mediatonic with Fall Guys. That led to me establishing a venture capital fund called HIRO Capital. We raised £105m which has been fully deployed, invested in 22 video games and technology companies.

“It's amazing the way the games industry has now become a $200 billion a year global industry with three billion people playing, and it’s always evolving. Every time there’s a new platform it’s additive to the market size, rather than substitutional like in music."

With so many hugely successful titles and studios under his investment umbrella, there’s no question that

Sir Ian knows what it takes to make it in this industry. His strategy overall is actually pretty simple, because one factor prevails above all else when it comes to his decision to invest.

“There are several things I always look at, but the fundamental thing, is the game fun?” Sir Ian explained.

“When people ask me what are the three most important things about a game, my answer is gameplay, gameplay, gameplay.

“Technology and graphics are important, they’re vital, but they play a supporting role. It’s all about the enjoyment from the game itself.

as well as bringing Dungeons and Dragons to the UK and writing many best-selling Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, it’s fair to say that Sir Ian Livingstone is a titan of the gaming industry.

“Then of course, what you have to look at is the team. You need a great creative director on the same level as the managing director, in order to enable each other to be successful by doing what they’re good at. That's how great teams work, by the senior leadership team being both creative and business driven.

“There are so many other factors that need to be considered as well including intellectual property, proprietary technology, data, business models, marketing and art. The business has to be adaptable. The whole gaming industry business model has changed from premium priced products in a physical box sold at retail, to a digital service, free at the point of delivery, accessing global markets. There needs to be an understanding of that. Despite current economic headwinds, the future growth of the industry is assured, and there’s an incredible opportunity there for anyone who wants to invest in the games space at the moment.”

Sir Ian has always been a huge advocate for education reform, with a particular focus on incorporating

gaming and creative learning methods into the national curriculum. In 2010 he was tasked by the government to create a report reviewing the UK video game industry in relation to education, resulting in the ‘NextGen’ report being published in 2011 recommending changes in ICT education policy, and the later introduction of the computing curriculum in schools.

A decade later, in 2021, Sir Ian’s passion for education reform manifested itself in him opening his own school - The Livingstone Academy in Bournemouth.

“The Livingstone Academy came about following the publication of NextGen with a group of us teaming up to convince the government to put computer science on the national curriculum.

“The idea was all about digital creativity, to move kids from the passenger seat of consumption of technology to the driver’s seat of being able to create their own technology.

“I’m a great believer in games-based learning and learning by doing. It’s

the application of knowledge that I think is so key for engagement. Kids are naturally curious. But it’s often the case that kids love learning but hate school.

“Traditionally, the way that subjects were delivered was a broadcast model; where the teacher would speak and you would copy it down and remember it, then regurgitate it as and when in an examination. I don’t think that speaks to Generation Z, because everything they do is interactive and collaborative. They enjoy learning by doing.

“The students at the Livingstone Academy are still served the national curriculum, but in a way that’s more contextual and collaborative, more cross-curricula and more projectbased.

“Put it this way, any job that involves repetition is going to be taken over by robots and artificial intelligence at some point, so there’s no point in

training children like robots as they won’t be able to compete with the real thing! That’s why we’ve got to encourage children to think critically and creatively because that’s what will separate them from the robots.

“An authentic education for the digital world is key, bringing the arts and sciences together to encourage innovation. It is essential that school is a place where creativity flourishes. Arts and sciences should no longer be a question of either or. STEM subjects are essential, but we must never underestimate the contribution that art, music, drama and design makes in promoting diverse thinking, self-expression and self-determination - the raw materials of the Creative Industries. Learning-by-doing is our mantra, and it’s my ambition to make the Livingstone Academy a flagship school for digital creativity.”

If you want to find out more about Sir Ian Livingstone’s early journey through the gaming industry, pick up a copy of his new book ‘Dice Men’, the origin story of Games Workshop, online or from any good book shop now.


spring 23 addressing the issue

What is the devolution deal, who will run it and other questions?

On 28 December 2022 the local authorities of County Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle, North Tyneside, Northumberland, South Tyneside, and Sunderland agreed the Level 3 devolution deal with the government. Then, on 27 January 2023, the council leaders officially signed off on the deal at a ceremony at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Arts attended by The Rt Hon Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

In simple terms the promise is £48 million in government funding to the North East part of the region every year for three decadeswhich is where the much publicised £1.4bn figure comes from. The deal will also involve a £563m

transport budget, as well as money for adult education and skills. An eight week public consultation on the deal began on 26 January and the seven councils will review the responses received then prepare a report to Michael Gove, after which legislation to establish the new North East Mayoral Combined Authority can be taken through Parliament. At that point the process to elect a metro mayor in May 2024 can begin. At Forum we want the voices and views of business, and particularly entrepreneurs, being represented and heard. It’s clear that our region needs to be more vocal than it has to date in the existing ‘Northern Powerhouse’ space. It is only by sharing the views, ideas and asks of the North East’s entrepreneurs that we can balance the more established and vocal mayors of the North West.

What are metro mayors?

Also known as ‘combined authority mayors’, metro mayors are directly elected leaders of city regions that span a number of local council areas. Each metro mayor chairs a mayoral combined authority (MCA) which

includes the region’s council leaders. Metro mayors were introduced by the 2010 and 2015 Conservative governments as part of their devolution agenda, designed to create a new tier of government, between Whitehall and the town hall,

“This is good news. Whilst there are many good things happening across the region, including the work on Sunderland's riverside, the burgeoning science and tech hub in Newcastle and the development in and around Durham City, a stronger collective voice can only give us a greater chance of investment in the infrastructure we need to attract new business and new talent. It's also extremely important to make sure we keep our great people in the region by providing high quality, sustainable jobs. It's essential that we have bold, clear, business focused leadership that sells the North East nationally and internationally.”

At Forum we know that business is the backbone of the economy and entrepreneurs its lifeblood. In this issue we explore what the recently announced devolution deal means for the north of our region, and what the elected mayor will need to understand in order to effectively represent our business community.

to take on some economic and public service responsibilities too large for individual councils to deal with. The logic being that - in having a closer understanding of local needs and opportunities - these new institutions would improve productivity in the areas lagging behind London.

Metro mayors hold powers over spatial planning, regional transport, the provision of skills and training, business support service and economic development.

Who are the notable mayors of the devolved authorities and what are they achieving?

Northern metro mayors of note include Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester and Steve Rotheram in Liverpool - who campaign for the North of England to receive a fair share of the government’s investment in UK plc. Recent highlights include the £460 million awarded to Liverpool to invest in major upgrades to the Merseyrail network, and winning the Eurovision Song contest hosting rights - though Burnham is vocal in his argument that the South of England continues to receive more than its fair share of investment, at the expense of the north. Since being elected metro mayor in the south of our region in 2017, Ben Houchen has focused on large scale investment into the Tees Valley and been instrumental in the development of the Teesworks site and bringing the airport back into public ownership.

Electing the right metro mayor for the north of our region is critically important, and entrepreneurs should be engaging in the debate - ensuring that whoever is elected represents our needs and secures opportunities and further investment, in the same way Ben, Andy and Steve are doing in their regions.

What makes this devolution deal different to previous attempts?

Michael Gove said the historic £4.2bn deal will be "bigger, better, and bolder” than failed past attempts to unite the region. He added that the deal is an “investment of hope and trust in the region and its people” and advised that the North East

“presents, as it so often does, a confident face to the rest of the UK and the rest of the world.”

What are seen as the key issues for the north for devolution to address?

At the ‘Convention of the North’, held in Manchester on 25 January 2023, assembled politicians and business leaders agreed in a vote that the key issue for the north is transport - specifically provision of a realistic alternative to cars that connects northern cities by a reliable train service, supported by local infrastructure including buses, lightrail (metro) services and cycle routes.

The government’s Levelling Up White Paper makes clear the case for devolution as “the engine room of improved productivity and reduced regional disparities”, adding that “devolution will be critical to delivering our twelve headline Levelling Up missions, strengthening local leadership to act more flexibly and innovatively to respond to local need, whether on transport, skills or regeneration”.

How will devolution affect our region’s governance?

Building on existing collaboration across the region and with central government, the new North East MCA will replace the existing North of Tyne MCA and the Mayor, as well as the non-mayoral North East Combined Authority. This will bring the region together and provide a more strategic economic geography, which encompasses the whole Tyne and Wear region, as well as Northumberland and Durham.

In addition to the 30 year investment fund, the deal will devolve the MCA control over the Adult Education budget so they can shape provision in a way that best suits the needs of local people; give control to the region of over half a billion pounds to upgrade public transport through a new City Region Sustainable Transport Settlement; and provide immediate support to build new affordable homes on brownfield sites. There will also be a funding pot available to help place-based regeneration across the region.

So does everyone think that the deal is a good one?

While council leaders who negotiated the package agree devolution is the way forward, some have called for realism. After all, £4.2bn shared across seven local authorities over 30 years will be a stretch.

Ammar Mirza CBE said: “The North East Devolution Deal has been frustratingly discussed for years and it is fantastic to see it eventually coming to fruition. Offering a unique and exciting opportunity to galvanise the region both socially and economically, providing additional and much needed investment, but more critically bringing together the two Combined Authorities, North East LEP and Transport Authority. “Any elected Mayor will need to truly represent the interests of the whole region. Ensuring that the strengths of our region are showcased globally and helping create an economic environment through inclusive growth that empowers all to prosper. Focusing on enabling people and places to thrive through policy development and delivering programmes of support that make a meaningful impact.”

Have your say in the public consultation on devolution by 23rd March.


spring 23 survey response

Confidence is on the rise

The Entrepreneur’s Forum Quarterly Members Pulse Survey has highlighted that, despite key challenges, including inflation and the impact of the war in Ukraine, most members are feeling optimistic about their business’s prospects for 2023. Out of those who responded, 77% are feeling optimistic, an increase of 4% since the last survey in November 2022.

How are you feeling about your business’s prospects for 2023?

Overall, a majority of members (77%) feel either very optimistic or optimistic about their business prospects for 2023. This compares to only 4% of members stating they feel pessimistic.

In total, 89 members completed the second Pulse survey, which was undertaken by Explain Market Research and looked to understand members’ optimism levels for the new year ahead, as well as some key challenges they are expecting to face.

Key findings

More optimistic than we were heading into 2022, but this was mainly because we had made a number of organisational changes at the end of 2021. These changes have had the positive impact that we hoped. We are now targeting growth, but realise that it is currently a very difficult marketplace, however the changes we made in 2021 give us a very stable platform to work from until the marketplace improves” Member for 1-5 years, Engineering, Male

Optimistic, but continued uncertainty on the economy, inflation, Ukraine war, future general election” Member for 6-12 months, Recruitment and HR, Female

Very optimistic 2% Don't know 57% Optimistic 16% Neither optimistic nor pessimistic 4% Pessimistic
Most members are looking to grow in 2023 through existing market growth (84%) and offering new products and services (57%).
The biggest challenge members are facing is people. Of those members experiencing people challenges, most (80%) said this related to finding staff, while nearly half (49%) said staff pay and benefits were an issue.
Over a third of members are experiencing sales challenges, predominately identifying new customers (58%) and converting leads into sales (58%).

forum partner Northumbria University

Through tailored, actionable growth plans, a government-backed leadership programme is providing SMEs in the region with the opportunity to enhance their productivity, gain critical skills and access personalised mentoring to boost their resilience and stimulate economic growth across the North East and beyond.

And the opportunity is right on their doorstep!

Hosted here in the North East by Northumbria University, the programme is helping increasing numbers of local SMEs to discover their competitive advantage, streamline their operations and learn how to face challenges proactively. Help to Grow: Management provides participants with a 12-week curriculum, a bespoke growth plan and wide-ranging networking opportunities – all 90% subsidised by the government.

To learn more, we sat down with Help to Grow participant Esther McHugh, to chat about her experience, her advice to anybody considering signing up and what the future looks like for her business, Helm.

Can you tell us about your


At Helm, we are a leading construction consultancy practice operating across a range of industries for both public and private sector clients. Our success has primarily been built on our exceptional service delivery; we are run by a highlyskilled, experienced and diligent team of project managers and cost consultants who genuinely care about their clients.

What is your role at Helm?

I’m the Business Manager, overseeing the day-to-day operations and working closely with the directors.

What made you decide to sign up for the Help to Grow: Management programme?

We’d recently undertaken a tricky corporate rebrand and were in the process of finding our feet, ensuring our new narrative and communications were consistent and on-brand while ensuring we didn’t inadvertently step into an identity crisis or experience resistance or confusion from current clients.

Secondary to this, like many other industries, we were finding it particularly challenging to attract and retain talent. This is by no means a challenge unique to us, but nonetheless still caused us problems. Finally, we had challenges in attracting new clients at the optimal rate. Striking a balance between not enough clients and too many for the team's capacity is never easy, but when compounded by the issues in staffing, we had to take action.

What has been the most significant benefit of the programme to Helm?

The Help to Grow: Management Programme has helped us in so many ways. We now ensure that we promote our vision and values

and place our narrative in a human context. This means that we communicate to potential new clients or employees not just what we do but who we are. Having an experienced and impartial personal mentor, who acts as your own advocate and understands the nuances of your business, is crucial to ensuring your plans make sense and that you understand the specific challenges you are facing correctly. The programme teaches you the theory you need to grow, but it also works with you to develop it into a bespoke, actionable strategy specific to you.

How has the programme aided your personal and professional development?

The programme has been incredible for me; it’s exposed me to aspects of the business that I haven’t experienced or considered before, taught me how to optimise each piece of the puzzle and to work proactively to predict and neutralise challenges.

What does the future look like for Helm?

Our new narrative has proved invaluable to us, particularly considering our recent rebrand, because we now have a solid and consistent voice. Developing a marketing strategy consistent with the new rebrand and identity is key for Helm’s continued growth.

What would your advice be to another business considering the Help to Grow programme? Give it a go! Even though you know your business inside out, this course gives you the vision to readdress your strategy and ensure that the business is moving with the times. The mentoring sessions alone are worth it, and it’s completely manageable alongside full-time work.

The next Help to Grow: Management cohort will start on 27 March 2023, with further cohorts starting in September. To get in touch with the Help to Grow team, please contact:

To find out more visit: or to sign up visit:


new members

who’s joined recently

Margaret Bradshaw Red Button Marketing and Training

David Broom B7 Associates

Michael Grahamslaw Northern Insight

Sarah Grant My Healthcare Recruit

Tom Heaney Property Investment & Business Acquisitions

Gill Hunter Square One Law

Tom Maxfield Tom's Companies

Lyle McCalmont MCD Systems

Sophie Milliken Moja Group

Claire Rolston CLR Law

Nick Oates Quanta

Wenyan Sharp Galaxy Energy Solutions

Rachel Skeoch Truenorth Marketing

Andrew Silver 360 Growth Partners

Sam Tate New World Financial Group

Kim Turner Double Eleven

Lyle McCalmont MCD Systems

other entrepreneurs and maybe some that have been around the block a few times.

Running a business requires a degree of adaptability but also experience, it will be nice to hear from others who may have faced similar challenges, or who can inspire the group with their experiences.

Who, dead or alive, would you like to have dinner with?

I think I would have to invite Mr Walt Disney because of his creative talent and passion for production, as well as him being a pioneer in his field and an astute businessperson.

What are you most proud of?

I’m proud to be in the fifth year

of business. I read a stat that approximately 20% of small businesses fail within the first year. By the end of the second year, 30% of businesses will have failed. By the end of the fifth year, about half will have failed. To have grown the business, despite some of the challenges lots of businesses have faced recently, has been a proud moment for me.

Sophie Milliken MBE Moja Group

What was the attraction of joining the Forum?

I kept noticing people speaking positively about Forum events and realised I must be missing out. Then an invitation to attend the conference popped into my inbox from Elaine and I thought it was a sign! I really enjoyed the day and chatting to new and old faces.

What do you hope to achieve with the Forum?

The Forum gives me an opportunity to stay connected with great people as well as learn from new contacts and guest speakers. I’m looking forward to making the most of the membership and getting the Moja team out to events too.

What was your first job?

After a paper round, it was working in Wimpy for the grand sum of £1.88 per hour. It felt like a fortune to my 14 year old self.

What is something most people don’t know about you?

Decoding the Successful Female

Entrepreneur. I had to submit nine versions of my research proposal to have it accepted. There was A LOT of reading involved to get to this point so I’m definitely on my way to expert status.

What are you most proud of?

What was the attraction of joining the Forum?

The Entrepreneurs’ Forum has a good reputation for its events and its people. The events have been relaxed and friendly and the content is current. I’m looking forward to getting together with other members and hearing more from the Forum.

What do you hope to achieve with the Forum?

I’m keen to make connections with

What was your first job?

At age 14 I figured out that I could make some cash mowing lawns with our family petrol lawn mower. I found a big house half a mile away that would pay me £20. It would take about 10 mins to walk there with my mower and 3 hours of mowing when I got there. I managed to get a few more ‘clients’ and it was a decent little earner for a young lad over the summer.

I’ve always had a voluntary ‘job’ since I was in my early 20s. The longest of which was volunteering at The Samaritans for about eight years in Newcastle then London. As well as the benefit to the charity, you gain so much from the experience and the people you meet.

What would your specialist subject be on Mastermind?

Female entrepreneurship! I started a PhD part-time at Durham University last year and am researching this topic for my thesis which is all about

It might be a little clichéd, but without a doubt it’s my daughter, Jess. She’s just turned 11 and I’ve been a single parent to her since she was two. It’s often hard to combine business with parenting and I believe childcare is my greatest business challenge but it is worth it.

If you had a time machine, where would you go and why?

I’d go back to September 2019 and listen and act upon the red flags I spotted in the lead up to selling my first business. While I don’t regret things I’ve done and definitely learned a lot from the experience, I wish I had sold it to people whose values align more closely to my own.

spring 23
Founder and CEO of Moja Group, a specialist marketing agency. Founder of MCD Systems, a specialist digital technology agency.

Claire Rolston CLR Law

Sarah Grant My Healthcare Recruit

What was the attraction of joining the Forum?

Having recently moved back up to the North East after many years down South, I’m looking to build more of an entrepreneurial network. I find business super interesting but I’m not sure all of my less-entrepreneurial friends agree, so it would be great to meet some like-minded individuals!

What do you hope to achieve with the Forum?

I’m at an exciting growth stage of the business at the moment and I am looking to connect with both similar businesses and those who have successfully transitioned this stage to learn as much as I can.

What was your first job? Sales Assistant at Marks and Spencer’s.

What is something most people don’t know about you?

I can fit mini M&Ms in my dimples.

What would your specialist subject be on Mastermind?

International healthcare recruitment.

Who, dead or alive, would you like to have dinner with?

Tom Hanks because he's been in so many amazing films, he'd have a lot to talk about, and seems a really nice guy.

What are you most proud of?

We have deployed a huge number of nurses to the UK at a time when we really need them, and in the process we have given those nurses an opportunity to create a life that they dreamed of for themselves and their families.

I get to see their Facebook photos and they look like they’re just having an absolute blast, and I feel proud that I’ve been able to play a part in that.

How do you unwind or deal with stress?

An intense spin class!

If you had a time machine, where would you go and why?

I would love to go to the year 3023 to see how much things have changed. Technology is moving at such a fast rate now I think it would be mind-blowing to see the changes they have come up with in the future.

What was the attraction of joining the Forum?

I attended the EF awards dinner as a guest and I was inspired by the entrepreneurial spirit of the individuals I met and how they valued being a member. The way we network post-pandemic has dramatically changed, as we are far more choosy about how we spend our time away from our desks. I therefore wanted to make sure that I was spending time with the right people in the right environment in order to grow my business.

What do you hope to achieve with the Forum?

I’d like to grow my network and build relationships with like-minded individuals and take advantage of the support offered by the Forum to ultimately scale my law firm.

What was your first job?

Aside from waitressing and bar work when I was younger and a temporary stint counting broken lampposts in Westminster, my first ‘proper’ job after university was as a paralegal in the East End of London before securing a training contract with a firm in South London.

What is something most people don’t know about you?

I am an FA qualified football coach and currently coach an U10 girls team. It can be tough when you’ve had a busy day and then have to go off to training, but once I’m there I forget about everything else and really enjoy it.

What would your specialist subject be on Mastermind?

That’s a tough one. I seem to know a lot about golf clubs as my husband is forever watching YouTube videos about them.

Who, dead or alive, would you like to have dinner with?

The man of the moment - Eddie Howe. I’d like to get some coaching tips for my team!

What are you most proud of?

I’m most proud of my two daughters. They both play football and I love watching them play. I’m also proud of my third child - my business that I set up in 2010 and the fact it is still going strong 13 years later.

How do you unwind or deal with stress?

I play golf, although not as regularly as I’d like to, and I love going skiing. We go to a lesser known resort in the Aosta Valley in Northern Italy. I also love going to Beadnell as the beach and the sea are the perfect way to chill out and calm the mind.

If you had a time machine, where would you go and why?

I would definitely go back to the late 80s/early 90s when life seemed a lot simpler! I would possibly choose a different career path knowing what I know now.

For more information visit get-involved

Director and Solicitor at CLR Law, a boutique law practice specialising in employment law. Managing Director of My Healthcare Recruit, an end-to-end healthcare recruitment firm.

out of office a passage to India

and professionally, while spending time at home with my children which I am very grateful for. I also started to do quite a lot of fitness to support my well-being and give me structure to my day in the early days of lockdown. I was hooked from day one - Zoom bootcamp classes, Zumba, Pilates you name it, I was on it! This led me to plan ahead a challenge for me to work towards. I’d have the adverts popping up on my social media feeds for charity treks regularly so just took the plunge and booked it - 18 months aheadplenty of time to train.

Founder, Director and CEO of Hadrian's Recruitment - to find out all about her incredible treks through India.

In October 2022, Sarah jetted off to Delhi and joined a group of complete strangers who had also challenged themselves to the ‘Walk With Me Dalai Lama Trek’, a charity organised trek. For 12 days Sarah and her group had a taste of the many delights India has to offer, from the Taj Mahal to the Himalayas, experiencing the sounds, smells, sites and culture along the journey!

What inspired you to take on this trek challenge by yourself?

For those who know me personally, I like a challenge and like to take myself out of my comfort zone from time to time! I have always wanted to travel and incorporate challenges that take me ‘off the beaten track’ so to say, but juggling my family commitments and my career coupled with being a lone parent meant it

was hard for me to be able to take the time away.

Fast forward to 2020 and hello COVID. Although a difficult time for many – and for my business, which literally stopped trading in the first lockdown – for the first time in my life, it gave me 'me time'. For the first few months, it enabled me to re-evaluate everything in my life and re-focus on what I wanted to achieve personally

I’ve never really done travelling alone to this extreme before, but it was nice to know that because I’d booked through an experienced charity trek provider I’d be joining a small group of like-minded fellow travellers too. It was supposed to be a group of 15, but it only ended up being eight. The Indian Government changed visa regulations suddenly in September 2022, which threw a huge spanner in the works and made it virtually impossible to get one - it made the last few weeks running up to the adventure even more stressful. My flight was booked less than 24 hours before I was due to leave and I actually only got my visa at 8:30am on the day I was flying! It was a very stressful start, but as soon as I had checked in at the airport I could relax and, looking back now, I wouldn’t have missed the trip for all of the tea in China! (hint, next trip?)

What was it like when you eventually arrived in India?

I flew from London to Delhi to start with where I met the group of seven at the airport. After a quick sleep, change of clothes and food we got the overnight sleeper train from Delhi all the way up to Dharamshala, a city in northern India. The nine-hour

spring 23
It’s that part of the magazine where we catch up with an adventure loving entrepreneur who took a break from their busy schedule to indulge their wanderlust. In this edition we caught up with Sarah Bell -

adventure introduced us to chai tea (10p), real indian culture and people (amazing!) and the world of squat toilets! A four-hour 4x4 journey followed up the mountains to a village called ‘McLeod Ganj,’ the residence of his holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. After a night of rest acclimatising there, we set off on our five day trek up into the mountains and Himalayas.

What was the guided trip and trek experience like?

The trek itself was five days and we had a brilliant guide and a team of sherpas supporting us, carrying everything we needed; food, water and tents. It was just amazing. It was one of the best experiences I have had in my life and I felt so lucky that I was able to do this and so pleased that I did it. I’ve had my business for eight years, and it was the first time that I have not taken a laptop with me when I’ve been away. We didn’t have a mobile phone signal for days - it was incredible!

It was hot during the day trekking and the climbs were sometimes quite challenging. We enjoyed the downhill when it came - although the nights were cold. We wrapped up warm and enjoyed each other's company around a campfire until bed at around 8pm as we were all so tired. We had a yoga guide with us who every morning delivered a session, wherever we were - I do remember being on top of one of the mountain campsites pinching myself thinking this can’t be real and that I couldn’t be there, but I was and it was totally

a life-changing experience. Again, I know this might sound a bit cheesy, but the trip really put into perspective what you need in life, what’s important and what’s not. There were times when we walked through villages that only had a little stream going through them and that was the only running water. The children walked five or six miles to school; so, the trek we were doing was equivalent to their walk to school. They were walking in flip flops up and down these mountains. We were invited into houses for cups of tea despite these people having nothing. Everyone was so welcoming. It was a truly life affirming experience. Finally, we got back on the overnight sleeper train to Delhi and from there headed on to Agra to see the Taj Mahal on the last day. That was just out of this world. Walking up to it and walking through the archway to see, it was a once in a lifetime experience and I felt so lucky. It was really busy, packed, but incredible. That was the end of the trip and it really was ending on a high.

Would you do a trip like this again in the future?

I definitely will. I’m 50 next year and I do want to go to Nepal and do more trekking to celebrate this. I love having a challenge like this to work towards - one of the group members had climbed Kilimanjaro for his 70th birthday, was doing this, then had more treks planned in 2024 onwards - I so want to be that 70 year old!

The trip to India was a life-changing experience for me, it was a dream that I made reality which took me out of my comfort zone and into the unknown. I always think to myself, opportunities in life are there to be taken - the worst that can happen is that you don’t enjoy or succeed,

but you’ll learn from them for the future. At least you’ll know you’ve tried rather than thinking ‘what if?’ and having regrets. I apply those wise words to everything in life - sometimes you succeed and opportunities turn into incredible things!


Reignite the love for your business and identify areas for improvement with Robson Laidler’s online health check tools:






In a matter of minutes, you’ll be provided with an indication of your strengths, weaknesses and areas to improve.

The advisors at Robson Laidler have been invaluable in helping me develop a vision map for the future of my business.
Rachel Cornick, Owner, Cloan rental fashion.

spring 23

in focus Middleton Lodge Estate

Brought back to life by the Allison family, Middleton Lodge is a 200-acre privately owned estate located near Richmond, North Yorkshire. Elegant and enchanting, it’s the perfect place to unwind at the weekend, or to slow down and enjoy a week in the country. It’s recently been featured in British Vogue and Tatler, so we drove into the Yorkshire countryside to find out what all the hype is about… and we weren’t disappointed.

Over the past 16 years, the Allison family have made it their labour of love to bring 18th century Middleton Lodge Estate back to life, restoring and modernising the original walled gardens, houses and farm buildings without losing their essential Georgian character.

But Middleton Lodge has been in owner and managing director James Allison’s life for far longer than 16 years; his family bought the estate in 1980 and he was raised in the main house. His devotion to this place is evident in the thought and detail that has gone, and continues to go, into each restoration and new development.

At present the estate is home to two noted restaurants and a 30-bedroom hotel with treatment rooms, two self-catered cottages and two award-winning spaces for hosting private events and dream weddings. The characterful buildings are dotted about in cosy little hamlets amongst the parkland; it feels as though you have taken a step back in time and

landed in an idyllic country village. When you arrive, you’re greeted at the Gatehouse and directed to where you need to be. You’re instantly made to feel at home, put at ease by the warm and inviting team, many of whom have worked on the estate for a long time and live nearby. Here, you’ll find the peace and privacy you need to pause.

We fell in love with the estate, its beauty, feeling of community and strong sense of place. Everything is rooted in heritage and the environment. You catch glimpses of the traditional practices that would have been in place when the estate was originally built; the gardening teams work together to grow produce for the ‘estate-to-plate’ menus, liaising with the chefs to pick produce straight from the walled garden. Traditional cooking and preserving methods are also adopted.

You can sense straightaway that this once neglected Georgian giant has been lovingly brought back to life

with great diligence. No corners have been cut in the restoration of the estate – the aim is to ensure its longevity. James has used his engineering background to transform the estate whilst ensuring that the restoration has minimal impact on the environment. Sustainable measures put in place include biomass boilers, electric kitchens and car charging

units, an anaerobic digester, low food mile menus, and a recycle and reuse ethos across all teams. Solar panels, additional planting beds and hydroponic systems are being installed in the near future. James worked alongside Creative Director, Rebecca Tappin, to transform the interiors across the estate. Rebecca has used

the walled two-acre garden, which was redesigned by the Chelsea award-winning landscape architect Tom Stuart-Smith in 2014, as her inspiration. She has created rooms that bring the outdoors in. Colour schemes are muted, with earthy hues; some walls are stripped back, others are finished with carefully chosen hand-painted wallpaper. Each room, restaurant and social space feels calm and timeless. While it’s easy just to kick back and relax here, there are other options. Residents can take an early morning meander through the gardens and grounds, or loosen off any tension with a massage or head-to-toe scrub at the Treatment Rooms. Or you could plan a road trip, heading into the rolling landscape of the nearby Yorkshire Dales to hike or visit the historic market towns with their cobbled streets. Whatever the weather, peace of mind comes from knowing your cosy bedroom or cottage – some with hot tubs and log burning stoves – will be there to welcome you on your return.

We had heard a lot about the food here, too. There’s been recognition from the Michelin Guide for the estate’s efforts towards sustainable gastronomy. We feasted, for

forum favourites

breakfast, lunch and dinner at the Coach House, and while you may think that’s repetitive, the chefs change the menu daily to reflect what has been picked or foraged from the estate that morning, so it’s quite the opposite. If you’re up just before sunrise – hard to leave those comfy beds though! - you might spot chefs and gardeners filling baskets with freshly picked produce. With plates from the land, garden or sea, each dish is flavoursome, fresh, a veritable taste of the Yorkshire landscape.

This year will see Forge, the second restaurant on the estate, bring a new tasting experience to Middleton Lodge on Thursday to Sunday evenings. The Forest Spa is also set to open soon. As its name suggests, it’s strongly connected to nature, and it will be a place to nurture mind and body. Whether you're close by or making the journey from afar, be sure to book a stay at this marvel of a countryside hangout, which is as homely as James intended. With the A1 nearby, and Darlington railway station and Teesside International Airport under half an hour away, Middleton Lodge Estate is the perfect location for those travelling both locally and from afar.

Bed and breakfast room rates start from £235 per night. Find out more at, call 01325 377-977 or email

read Mindset

World-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck, in decades of research on achievement and success, has discovered a truly groundbreaking idea - the power of our mindset. Dweck explains why it's not just our abilities and talent that bring us success - but whether we approach them with a fixed or growth mindset. She makes clear why praising intelligence and ability doesn't foster self-esteem and lead to accomplishment, but may actually jeopardise success. With the right mindset, we can motivate our kids and help them to raise their grades, as well as reach our own goals - personal and professional. Dweck reveals what all great parents, teachers, CEOs, and athletes already know: how a simple idea about the brain can create a love of learning and a resilience that is the basis of great accomplishment in every area.

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From motivational reads, insightful documentaries and goal-grabbing podcasts, Forum picks out a selection of inspiring media… listen

Conversations of Inspiration

Join Holly Tucker MBE, founder of notonthehighstreet, as she takes you through entrepreneurial passion, pain and perseverance: the highest highs and the lowest lows. Hear the powerfully honest conversations and life lessons of those brave enough to make the break and do what they love on her ‘Conversations of Inspiration’ podcast. Bursting with great advice, both for business and life in general, these upbeat conversations with inspirational entrepreneurs and creatives are sure to put a spring in your step!


spring 23

travel into the wild

A world-class experience showcasing the beauty of nature and wildlife, Cottar’s Safari is an awe-inspiring box ticker for any avid globe trotter...

World-renowned for its exceptional populations of lion, African leopard, cheetah and African bush elephant, Masai Mara in Kenya is a must-visit destination sitting high on the top of many bucket lists. Each year, it’s said that over two million wildebeest, zebra and other herbivores trek from the southern Serengeti to the lush green grasses of the Masai Mara, securing it as one of the seven Natural Wonders of Africa, and as one of the ten Wonders of the World. Nestled within the breathtaking surroundings of this exceptional part of the world, lies the awardwinning Cottar’s Safaris. This fifth generation family operated Kenyan safari business established over a century ago, in 1919, continues to attract tourists from across the globe. After a thriving and colourful history of African safaris, Calvin and Louise began Cottar’s in the Masai Mara in the mid-nineties offering a bespoke safari experience. Renowned for providing genuinely stunning wildlife and wilderness experiences, visitors can expect an abundance of wildlife, a guarantee of privacy, and the highest standards of professional guiding, in a luxurious and authentic safari environment. Cottar’s Safaris is a portfolio of two transformative properties in the Masai Mara area in Kenya, that work with the local community to unite wildlife conservation and sustainable luxury travel. Situated in the untouched exclusive Olderkesi Conservancy bordering the Masai Mara, Serengeti and Loliondo reserves; the area guarantees privacy and an abundance of wildlife. Their 1920s Camp provides the romance of safari under nine cream canvas tents, spacious and luxuriously furnished in the style of the bygone era of the 1920s. Think vintage luxury at its best. The awardwinning accommodation has its own 7,608-acre private conservancy and is situated one kilometre from the famous ‘seventh’ Natural Wonder of the World. The stunning private Bush Villa boasts five en-suite bedrooms, amazing views over the Masai Mara, a 25m

private pool, private chef and guides. Recipient of the World Travel Award for Africa’s leading luxury private villa 2016 and Global Eco-sphere Retreat accredited, it’s the perfect base for those looking to indulge in an elegant and unforgettable experience. Both properties extend an era of luxury and quality. Whether it’s a family vacation or a honeymoon whirlwind, the experiences on offer cater for everyone. The activities are tailored to give you the most authentic African safari experiences with a top-notch guiding style that is said to stand out from the crowd. With once in a lifetime opportunities to see the ‘big five’, swim under some of the most impressive waterfalls, run with a Masai Warrior, take part in bush walks, visit local schools and join in with traditional singing and dancing, the possibilities are endless. It’s more than just a luxury getaway, it’s an experience like no other. Conservation and sustainability has long been at the heart of Cottar’s operations. Their lowimpact, high-value approach to sustainable ecotourism helps fund the vital work that is conserving land for biodiversity. Jaw-dropping views and gawking zebra in their natural habitat aside, the recent impact of Covid-19 has given the family time and opportunity to contemplate issues that matter to them most, creating the space to adjust, and develop a collection of more meaningful safari experiences, whilst also completing a sympathetic refurbishment which celebrates the pioneering spirit of safari.

Try these experiences…

The Cottars have developed unique, purpose-driven experiences that contribute to sustainability. Some of those experiences include engaging and learning about vulture rehabilitation, spending time with the only all-female conservation ranger unit in the Masai Mara, learning about the unique medicinal plants of the area, foraging and tasting local wild food, touring the community-owned private conservancy and participating in a reforestation seed disbursal bushwalk experience.

Vulture rehabilitation

In just 30 years, more than half of the vulture population of Kenya’s Masai Mara has been destroyed, seven of Africa’s 11 vulture species are on the edge of extinction, and 90% of reported vulture deaths in Africa are from medicinal use and poisoning. This is an opportunity to gain a unique insight into how this keystone species maintains the functioning health and resilience of the inhabitants and ecosystem of the Masai Mara. Guests will have the opportunity to learn more from the Kenya Birds of Prey Trust and ride along with their researcher to visit and identify nest sites.

Mara predator project experience

An ongoing and age-old conflict between the Masai people and predators has resulted in lions being significantly affected, resulting in population decline by a third in the last two decades. The Mara Predator Project provides science for conservation on cheetahs and lions, as well as enhancing understanding of the predator’s role within the broader ecosystem. This is a fascinating opportunity for guests to enjoy a half-day drive with researchers and get an in-depth understanding of the Mara predators. Please note that when there is planned collaring, guests are able join in and help to collar predators.

Learning with the female rangers

Cottar’s is home to the only all female ranger unit in the Masai Mara; this experience is an opportunity to support the important conservation, community and cultural-breaking initiatives that they work on, and to understand their goals and key challenges. Guests are able to join them in their daily activities patrolling, de-snaring, game counting and liaisons with the Masai community.

Medicinal walk and talk

For more information visit

An incredibly engaging opportunity to walk with and learn from Letilet, Cottar’s in-house Il Torobo hunter gatherer. Il Torobo is a disappearing tribe, with a unique knowledge of the medicinal values of the flora that surrounds the camp. This activity not only supports invaluable local knowledge and values biodiversity, it will also help the team to compile a list of the local flora and its medicinal uses.


spring 23 join us

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